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Monday, June 16th, 2008

Mercer County voters will use paper ballots

By William Kincaid
An optical scan paper ballot system will be used during the November presidential election, as the Mercer County Board of Elections unanimously approved the decision this morning.
Elections board members met this morning with Mercer County Commissioner Jerry Laffin to determine whether to use touchscreen voting machines or optical scan.
The optical scan system would cost $35,795, while the touchscreen option would be $37,770, according to elections board Director Lynn Wylds.
In April, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner recommended Ohio counties ditch their touchscreen voting machines by the November general election in favor of optical scans. She also recommended that all ballots are counted at the precincts, instead of doing a central count where ballots are transported to one location.
Mercer County has both touchscreen and optical scan systems, but does not have the scanners needed to count the optical scan ballots at the precincts.
According to Wylds, the $35,795 optical scan cost includes: $15,000 to rent 20 scanners and ballot boxes for each precinct, $350 for two technicians on Election Day and their mileage, $825 for two technicians to set up and perform logic and accuracy testing and $16,000 for ballots, among other fees.
The $37,770 touchscreen option cost includes: a $22,500 contract service charge from Diebold Election system, $1,250 for eight technicians on Election Day, $5,500 for eight technicians to do logic and accuracy testing and setup and $1,450 for additional office staff, among other costs.
The board this morning decided to go with the optical scan system and rent the scanners for the precincts.
Election board Chairman Del Kramer said he thought - based on hearsay - that buying the scanners would cost $5,000 each, though he didn't have exact numbers. If this is correct, the total cost for 20 scanners would be $100,000.
Laffin said he was concerned about renting the scanners twice a year for elections, which would cost $30,000 annually.
"What we'd like to see is ... what's going to change next?" Laffin asked, wondering if the optical scan system would be permissible by the state in the future.
Laffin encouraged the board to look into the possibility of purchasing scanners and ballot boxes in the future if they believe the equipment will be acceptable to the state. He asked the board to see if the $15,000 rental fees could count toward possibly purchasing the scanners in the future.
County commissioners originally recommended the election board use touchscreen machines for the November election so they wouldn't have to spend the money on the scanners to count the optical ballots.
"We would have to perform two elections," Wylds said about if they used the touchscreen machines in November.
Brunner has said counties using touchscreens would also need to provide paper ballots.
"Is it just a directive or is it law?" Laffin asked.
Board member Mark Uhlenhake said he thought the secretary's ruling supersedes law, but no one at the meeting had a definitive answer.
Uhlenhake said he understands that some of the public may want the county to use the touchscreens since it already owns them, but many voters feel uncomfortable with touchscreens and prefer optical scan.
"The machines are intimidating to the poll workers," Wylds added.
In 2005, the county was forced to purchase the touchscreen machines by a state ruling, Kramer said. The board can borrow or lease out its touchscreen machines - which were purchased through a federal grant - but it is not allowed at this time to sell them, board members said.
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